Talk about doing it "my way."
The Chieftains singlehandedly took a genre of music — traditional Irish folk tunes — that essentially had been relegated to the scrap heap of musical history, revitalized it and brought it into the modern era. And while they were doing this, they gained the respect and collaboration of best-selling musicians throughout the world — everyone from Joni Mitchell to Sting, Stevie Wonder to the Muppets, Luciano Pavarotti to the Rolling Stones.
They've been doing it now for a half century, and to mark the occasion, the Chieftains are embarking on a national tour, playing with symphony orchestras and traveling from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center.
But where are they starting the tour? In Naples, at the Phil, playing with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. Paddy Moloney, the founder and leader of the Chieftains, has a winter home in Naples.
In an Irish brogue that 50 years of traveling the world has not diminished, he spoke, to borrow a line from the Grateful Dead, of what "long strange trip it's been."
Moloney plays the tin whistle and the uilleann pipes, the uniquely Irish version of the bagpipes, that are played by means of a bellows, rather than requiring the player to blow into a reed. With a plaintive, high-pitched wail, the sound of the uilleann pipes has been compared to the human voice.
His own singing voice is not typically heard on the Chieftains' recordings — and they have 50 studio albums in their catalog, along with live sessions, collaborations and film scores.
But Moloney, who writes and arranges most of the group's music, certainly fits the Irish tradition of having the gift of Blarney. He is the voice of the Chieftains when it comes to speaking for the band.
"We're not rock and roll," said Moloney, with a good deal of understatement. "We went out and presented the music in its purest form. I never dreamed we'd reach the audience and find the acceptance we have."
If you go
Who: The Chieftains with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9
Where: Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
To buy: Thephil.org or 239-597-1900
Among many highlights for the Chieftains and their Celtic music, Moloney recalled being the first Western musical ensemble invited to play music atop the Great Wall of China, in 1983.
"That was the old China — there were no skyscrapers," he said. "We're talking the depths of the Cold War."
They were also the first to play in the Capitol in Washington, invited by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and the late speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.
When Queen Elizabeth II made her historic first trip to Ireland, the Chieftains were there to serenade her, and when Pope John Paul II spoke to 1.3 million Irishmen and women in Dublin, "we were his opening act," Moloney said.
That got them invited to the Vatican, for another never-to-be-forgotten gig.
But the Chieftains music was literally out of this world when they joined astronaut Cady Coleman, who sat in virtually with the band on flute as she orbited the planet aboard the International Space Station.
Moloney has a son who is literally a rocket scientist, with a Ph.D. in nano-physics.
Playing with symphonic orchestras makes sense for the Chieftains, said Paddy Moloney, although he addd they will open the show with about 35 minutes of the Chieftains alone.
"You could call the music we play the classical music of Ireland," he said.
They have never gone for the lowest common denominator of stereotypical Irish music, the leprechauns and the unicorn. But they found something of a breakthrough with the help of Hollywood.
The score for Stanley Kubrick's 1975 film "Barry Lyndon," on which the Chieftains collaborated, won an Academy Award and was many Americans' first exposure to Celtic music.
Other movies and other awards followed. The band has won six Grammys and an Emmy and been named Ireland's Musical Ambassadors by the Irish government. They even won Mexico's highest cultural honor.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Moloney and the Chieftains are continuing to push the boundaries as they set out on their second half-century.
Their latest studio album, "Voice of Ages," garnered the highest-ranking Billboard debut of their career, and was hailed as "momentous" by Billboard and "killer" by Rolling Stone magazine.
What will the next 50 years bring for the Chieftains? It's safe to say there's no telling.
They are bringing in new blood, seeking new ventures and working with young artists, and some older artists, as well.
Moloney just released an album of his Uilleann pipe music, melded with the spoken-voice poetry of John Montague.
Montague is the poet whose book, "The Death of a Chieftain," originally gave the musical group their name 50 years ago.
The band's 10 members, including two dancers and one listed as fiddle/dance, features three of the original players who began in Dublin at the end of 1962.
"I've so much to offer yet," said Moloney, explaining his lack of interest in slowing down at age 74. One personal tidbit he offered was on the subject of alcohol, which has long associations with Irishmen and with music.
"I used to like a little drop of Guinness. Now I prefer a good red wine," he said.